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Last Updated: Sunday, 23 February 2003, 13:40 GMT
'No return' for Elgin Marbles
Elgin Marbles at the British Museum
The British Museum is determined to hang on to the sculptures
The director of the British Museum has said that the Elgin Marbles should never be returned from Britain to Greece.

In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, Neil MacGregor said the sculptures, which once adorned the Parthenon temple in Athens, should remain in London.

He has also ended discussions with a British campaign group seeking their return to Greece.

The 2,500-year-old sculptures depicting religious and mythological scenes have been held at the British Museum since 1816, despite ongoing Greek efforts to have them repatriated.

It is a very happy result of history that half of these surviving fragments... are in London
Neil MacGregor
Mr MacGregor, who became museum director six months ago, has issued a firm ruling certain to dismay Greek authorities.

He believes the sculptures can "do most good" in their current home, seen in what he describes as a broader historical context.

He told the Sunday Telegraph: "I do not believe there is a case for returning the marbles.

"It is a very happy result of history that half of these surviving fragments of these sculptures are in London.

"They have a purpose here because this is where they can do most good.

"The British Museum can situate the achievements of these Greek sculptures in the context of the wider world."

'Virtual' Parthenon

He wants the Greek Government to accept a computer-generated version of what the sculptures would look like back on the Parthenon.

"The Parthenon can never be reconstructed so let's try and put together what's left of it virtually," he said.

Late last year, Greece stepped up its campaign to have the marbles returned to their place of origin.

Work has even started on the construction of a new museum at the Acropolis in Athens to house them in time for the summer Olympic Games in the city next year.

That plan now looks unlikely.

Design plan for the New Acropolis Museum
Greek plans to recover the marbles may be doomed
Asked if he thought the sculptures should never be returned, Mr MacGregor said: "Yes. The British Museum is one of the great cultural achievements of mankind: it is very important that there is a place where all the world can store its achievements.

"Lots of people would agree that there should not be a special case for the Parthenon.

"I personally don't see any difference between Greek visual culture and the visual culture of Italy and Holland, which is also spread around the world."

Mr MacGregor's comments and decision to end discussions have also angered the British Committee for the Restitution of the Marbles.

The group's chairman, Professor Anthony Snodgrass, said: "I would only be happy with a virtual reality version if they were put in the British Museum as a replacement for the originals."

Diplomatic row

The controversy over the sculptures has a long history.

They were first brought to London in the early 19th Century by British diplomat Lord Elgin.

Athens first called for their return in 1829, after Greece won independence from Turkey.

The issue has simmered ever since. In 1961, the then prime minister, Harold Macmillan, described it as complicated.

Successive Greek Governments have exerted diplomatic pressure, but all efforts to repatriate the marbles have failed.

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